The parsha of Bamidbar is generally read on the Shabbat before Shavuot, z’man matan torateinu — “the time of the giving of our law,” the revelation at Sinai. So the Sages, believing that nothing is coincidental, searched for some connection between the two.
To find one is not easy. There is nothing in the parsha about the giving of the Torah. Instead it is about a census of the Israelites. Nor is its setting helpful. We are told at the beginning that the events about to be described took place in “the wilderness of Sinai,” whereas when the Torah speaks about the great revelation, it talks about “Mount Sinai.” One is a general region, the other a specific mountain within that region. Nor are the Israelites at this stage walking towards Mount Sinai. To the contrary, they are preparing to leave. They are about to begin the second part of their journey, from Sinai to the Promised Land.
The Sages did, nonetheless, make a connection, and it is a surprising one:
And God spoke to Moses in the Sinai Wilderness” (Numbers 1:1). Why the Sinai Wilderness? From here the Sages taught that the Torah was given through three things: fire, water, and wilderness. How do we know it was given through fire? From Exodus 19:18: “And Mount Sinai was all in smoke as God had come down upon it in fire.” How do we know it was given through water? As it says in Judges 5:4, “The heavens dripped and the clouds dripped water [at Sinai].” How do we know it was given through wilderness? [As it says above,] “And God spoke to Moses in the Sinai Wilderness.” And why was the Torah given through these three things? Just as [fire, water, and wilderness] are free to all the inhabitants of the world, so too are the words of Torah free to them, as it says in Isaiah 55:1, “Oh, all who are thirsty, come for water … even if you have no money.
The Midrash takes three words associated with Sinai — fire (that was blazing on the mountain just before the revelation), water (based on a phrase in the Song of Deborah), and wilderness (as at the beginning of our parsha, and also in Exodus 19:1-2) — and it connects them by saying that “they are free to all the inhabitants of the world.”
This is not the association most of us would make. Fire is associated with heat, warmth, and energy. Water is associated with quenching thirst and making things grow. Wilderness is the space between: neither starting point nor destination, the place where you need signposts and a sense of direction. All three would therefore make good metaphors for the Torah. It warms. It energizes. It satisfies spiritual thirst. It gives direction. Yet that is not the approach taken by the Sages. What mattered to them is that all three are free.
Staying for a moment with the comparison of Torah and the wilderness, there were surely other significant analogies that might have been made. The wilderness is a place of silence where you can hear the voice of God. The wilderness is a place away from the distractions of towns and cities, fields and farms, where you can focus on the presence of God. The wilderness is a place where you realize how vulnerable you are: you feel like sheep in need of a shepherd. The wilderness is a place where it is easy to get lost, and you need some equivalent of a Google-Maps-of-the-soul. The wilderness is a place where you feel your isolation and you reach out to a force beyond you. Even the Hebrew name for wilderness, midbar, comes from the same root as “word” (davar) and “to speak” (d-b-r). Yet these were not the connections the Sages of the Midrash made. Why not?
The Sages understood that something profound was born at Mount Sinai, and this has distinguished Jewish life ever since. It wasthe democratization of knowledge. Literacy and knowledge of the law was no longer to be confined to a priestly elite. For the first time in history, everyone was to have access to knowledge, education, and literacy. “The law that Moses gave us is the possession of the assembly of Jacob” (Deut. 33:4) — the whole assembly, not a privileged group within it.
The symbol of this was the revelation at Mount Sinai, the only time in history when God revealed Himself not only to a Prophet but to an entire people, who three times signaled their consent to the commands and the covenant. In the penultimate command that Moses gave to the people, known as Hakhel, he gave the following instruction:
At the end of every seven years, in the Sabbatical year, during the Festival of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place He will choose, you shall read this law before them in their hearing. Assemble the people — men, women, and children, and the foreigners residing in your towns — so they can listen and learn to fear the Lord your God and follow carefully all the words of this law. Their children, who do not know this law, must hear it and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess. (Deut. 31:10-13)
Again, the whole people, not an elite or subset within it. This is echoed in the famous verse from Isaiah 54:13, “And all your children shall be learned of the Lord and great shall be the peace of your children.” This was and remains the unique feature of the Torah as the written constitution of the Jewish people as a nation under the sovereignty of God. Everyone is expected not merely to keep the law but to know it. Jews became a nation of constitutional lawyers.
There were two further key moments in the history of this development. The first was when Ezra and Nehemiah gathered the people, after the Babylonian exile, to the Water Gate in Jerusalem on Rosh Hashanah and read the Torah to them, placing Levites throughout the crowd to explain to people what was being said and what it meant, a defining moment in Jewish history that took the form not of a battle but of a massive adult education program (Neh. 8). Ezra and Nehemiah realized that the most significant battles in ensuring the Jewish future were cultural, not military. This was one of the most transformative insights in history.
The second was the extraordinary creation, in the first century, of the world’s first system of universal compulsory education. Here is how the Talmud describes the process, culminating in the work of Joshua ben Gamla, a High Priest in the last days of the Second Temple:
Truly the name of that man is to be blessed, namely Joshua ben Gamla, for but for him the Torah would have been forgotten from Israel. For at first if a child had a father, his father taught him, and if he had no father he did not learn at all. … They therefore ordained that teachers should be appointed in each prefecture, and that boys should enter school at the age of sixteen or seventeen. [They did so] but if the teacher punished them they used to rebel and leave the school. Eventually, Joshua b. Gamla came and ordained that teachers of young children should be appointed in each district and each town, and that children should enter school at the age of six or seven.
Universal compulsory education did not exist in England — at that time the world’s leading imperial power — until 1870, a difference of 18 centuries. At roughly the same time as Joshua ben Gamla, in the first century CE, Josephus could write: “Should any one of our nation be asked about our laws, he will repeat them as readily as his own name. The result of our thorough education in our laws from the very dawn of intelligence is that they are, as it were, engraved on our souls.”
We now understand the connection the Sages made between the wilderness and the giving of the Torah: it was open to everyone, and it was free. Neither lack of money nor of aristocratic birth could stop you from learning Torah and acquiring distinction in a community in which scholarship was considered the highest achievement.
I believe that this is one of Judaism’s most profound ideas: whatever you seek to create in the world, start with education. If you want to create a just and compassionate society, start with education. If you want to create a society of equal dignity, ensure that education is free and equal to all. That is the message the Sages took from the fact that we read Bamidbar before Shavuot, the festival that recalls that when God gave our ancestors the Torah, He gave it to all of them equally.
En parashá Bamidbar Moshé Rabeinu organiza al pueblo judío como un ejército, en 4 campamentos. También le da a los levitas su especial encomienda, el servicio del Templo. En esta sección hay unos versículos a los cuales deseo llamar su atención; este dice: “vehazar hakarev iumat“, traducido como, “y el extraño que se acerque morirá” (cf. Números 1:51; 3:10, 38) Si alguien es ajeno al servicio de los levitas, más aún, si es ajeno al servicio de los sacerdotes y efectúa este servicio yendo en contra del mandamiento de la Torá, entonces está sujeto a la pena de muerte.
“Ve hazar hakarev“, cualquiera que se aproxime, si es ajeno y quiere acercarse, y se acerca, Hashem dice: “NO, esa no es tu función. No es tu shlijus, “no es tu misión, tu cometido”. Si tomas la iniciativa de acercarte, a pesar de estar acercándote, en realidad no lo estás haciendo. No sólo no te estás acercando, sino que por ser ajeno a este servicio estás sujeto a morir. “Hazar hakarev iumat“.
Estos versículos son citados en una historia muy famosa que se cuenta en el Talmud acerca Hilel HaZakén, quien tenía fama de ser muy humilde. Él era amigo de Shamai y Shamai era kapdán. Tenía dimim, “severidades” de su carácter, severidades santas. La guemará nos dice que, en tres diferentes ocasiones, gentiles fueron a Hillel y Shamai para ser convertidos, pero cada uno tenía una condición para hacerlo. Si quieres convertirte, no pongas tnaiim (condiciones), sólo di que sinceramente quieres ser judío. Pero, cada uno de estos tres gentiles vinieron y dijeron: “deseo convertirme, pero tengo una condición”; tan pronto como Shamai escuchó que deseaban convertirse, pero con una condición, simplemente los rechazó: “No.”
Cuando fueron a Hilel, como señal de su humildad, los convirtió. Él decidió attender primero el asunto de la conversión y luego se encargó de las condiciones que cada cual presentaba. La primera historia es la de un converso que le dijo: “yo solo quiero recibir la Torá escrita, no quiero la Torá oral”. Cuando éste fue primero a donde Shamai le preguntó: ¿Cuántas Torás tienen ustedes los judíos? Shamai le respondió “Tenemos dos, la Torá escrita y la oral”. El gentil le dijo: “Bien, solamente voy a tomar la Torá Escrita pero no la Torá Oral, sólo conviérteme con eso”. Shamai lo echó. Entonces decidió ir donde Hilel, y éste le dijo “Está bien, maravilloso” y lo convirtió ahí mismo. Hecho esto, le dijo “Ahora comenzaremos a estudiar Torá”. El primer día asistió al Beit Midrash (casa de estudios) acompañado por Hillel. Alli le enseñó el alef-bet. Al igual que sí en nuestra época se trataba de un baal teshuvá, un retornante que no sabe ni tan siquiera las letras del alefbet. Ese primer Hilel le dijo: “alef, bet, guimel, dalet”. Le enseñó las primeras cuatro letras según el orden establecido. El segundo día regresa y [Hilel] le dice: “Vamos a repasar lo que aprendimos ayer ¿Qué aprendimos ayer?” y le dice: “bet, alef, guimel, dalet”. El converso responde: “Pero ayer me lo enseñaste en un orden diferente, me dijiste que era alef, bet, guimel, dalet. Ahora me dices que es bet, alef, guimel, dalet”. Entonces (Hilel) le ripostó: “Así como me creíste cuando te enseñé cuál es el orden de las letras a pesar de no existir ni un versículo en la Torá escrita que explique cuál es el orden del alef-bet, de igual manera tienes que creerme con respecto a toda la Torá oral”. Y eso fue suficiente. De esa manera él (Hilel) rectificó completamente el alma de ese converso.
Luego está la historia más famosa, la del converso que viene y le dice: “Enséñame toda la Torá mientras estás parado en un solo pie”. Shamai simplemente dice “No”. Sin embargo Hilel le dice: “Te voy a enseñar toda la Torá parado sobre un pie: lo que no quieres que los demás te hagan a ti, no se lo hagas a los demás”.
Veamos ahora la tercera historia. Se trata de un gentil que va caminando por la calle y pasa cerca del Beit Midrash. Los allí reunidos estaban estudiando acerca de las hermosas vestimentas de los sacerdotes. Estaban alabando la hermosura que de estas 8 prendas, 4 de las cuales eran vestimentas del trabajo del Cohen Gadol. Este gentil pensó: “si los judíos tienen este Cohen Gadol (Sumo sacerdote) con todas estas prendas hermosas, yo quiero ser judío y quiero ser su sumo sacerdote”. Con este objetivo en mente fue a ver a Shamai, y le dijo: “Por favor conviérteme, quiero ser judío, pero tengo una condición: que me conviertas en el sumo sacerdote”. Al escucharlo Shamai lo echó. Luego fue donde Hilel, quien después de escucharlo le dijo: “Bueno, ¡maravilloso!” Lo convierte y siendo ya judío, le pregunta a su maestro: ¿Y ahora qué hay acerca de convertirme en sumo sacerdote? ¡Esa era su condición! Entonces Hilel le dijo: “Un rey no puedes designar a alguien para ser el rey si éste no conoce todo el funcionamiento, todos los secretos internos necesarios para serlo. Lo mismo pasa con el sumo sacerdote, no te podemos hacer Sumo Sacerdote hasta que aprendas toda la Torá. Primero tienes que ser un erudito en todas las leyes de la Torá, luego hablaremos acerca de hacerte sumo sacerdote”. “¡Genial!” Entonces comenzó a estudiar, llegando a estos versículos presentes en la parashá de esta semana, Sí, los mismos con las que iniciamos: “vehazar hakarev iumat ” Dice: el extranjero que trata de acercarse a un servicio que no le pertenece, será castigado con la muerte. Entonces el converso mira a Hilel y le dice: “¿A quién se refieren estas palabras, “ vehzar hakarev iumat ”?” Y Hilel dice: “ afilu al David Melej Israel ”, “estas palabras aluden o alcanzan hasta David, el rey de Israel”. Puesto que si el rey de Israel, es más hasta el mismo Mashíaj, siendo que no es sacerdote ni un levita, si asumiese la función de un sacerdote o levita –y este es el caso por tratarse de un descendiente del Rey David- estará sujeto a la pena de muerte. Incluso el Mashíaj, si intentara convertirse en el sumo sacerdote, y, de pronto tuviere la tavaá (el deseo) de ponerse las 8 hermosas vestimentas, merecería ser castigado con la pena de muerte, y esto a pesar de ser el Mashíaj. Cuando el converso escucho esto, “ vehzar hakarev iumat ”, afilu al David Melej Israel, se dio por vencido y dijo: Si ni aun el rey David puede ser Sumo Sacerdote, cuanto menos yo podré serlo, soy sólo un converso”.
El final de esta historia es, según nos dice la guemará, es que estos tres conversos se conocieron; tuvieron un farbrengen, una reunión jasídica. Cuando se reunieron dijeron: “Si hubiese sido por Shamai, seriamos almas perdidas. Pero por causa de la humildad de Hilel, hemos sido tomados bajo las alas de la Shejiná, la Presencia Divina. Entonces, una de las cosas muy importante, es entender que somos como los conversos cuando se trata de hacer teshuvá. Debemos acercarnos a Adonai, reconociendo qué es lo que quiere decir “cercanía”, cómo volvernos cercanos. Si tratamos de acercarnos de una manera que no nos corresponde, de una forma que no es la apropiada para nosotros, entonces podríamos toparnos con lo contrario a la vida.
Son estos versículo los que nos ayudan a reconocer cuál es la correcta manera de cada quien acercarse a Hakadosh Baruj hu. Y como dijimos antes, hasta el Mashíaj (y todos nosotros somos parte del Mashíaj) es considerado ajeno, una extrañeza, la palabra zar significa “extranjero”. Todos/as tenemos ese punto interior de lo ajeno, de lo extraño. Así que, es menester que cada uno encuentre manera como le corresponde acercarce a Dios, y vayamos a toda velocidad hacia Hakadosh Baruj Hu.
When we fully enter into each other’s presence, when we fully recognize each other in our sacred humanity, we actually experience the energetic flow that connects us. We emit an invisible but palpable radiance linking the poles of our Being as we come into connection and experience one another as here, as here together embraced in each other’s sight. This kind of encounter—occurring sometimes in two-person encounters and ubiquitously in the “rising” period of liberatory social movements as this mutual recognition ricochets into a powerful social force—is inherently egalitarian. No one is experienced as above or underneath anyone else, but rather we all experience each other as fully present together in the same space, on the same solid ground of Being. We form a real and felt “we”, not an imagined “we” “out there” that we imagine we are a part of.
But when we cannot experience the true presence of the other because we have been conditioned to fear the other as a threat to our ontological integrity, when the other’s gaze seems to carry the threat of some fundamental humiliation of our being that must be guarded against, we pool up our longing for authentic human connection behind a series of roles and performances that leave us starved for true community. As we whirl in the Hall of Mirrors that keep us spinning at a distance moving through the reflected selves that are not our real selves, we long for the grace of the other’s true presence, the co-presence of I and Thou that would allow us to be here together on the same ground. Scattering out among the rotations of representations, the “center cannot hold,” and the bioenergetic force that animates us towards connection, cut off from its source of completion in and through each other, desperately seeks out some substitute way to find an outlet to express itself.
Understood collectively, this force of blocked connection channels itself, outward from multiple poles, toward a common leader who uses this force to create a false-we, an imaginary We, that each isolated person can imaginarily feel a part of. In the reality of its Being here on the ground, the group thus formed is characterized by universal separation resulting from a circulating fear of the other, of each other. But in the imaginary, the group feels united, filling with bioenergetic passion what is missing, what is actually everywhere blocked here in the present moment. Everyone is there; no one is here.
This is what is occurring today among the avid supporters—the so-called “base–of Donald Trump. Within the base as a living bioenergetic field, everyone’s blocked energy toward real others, which is an inherently loving and mutually recognizing energy, is displaced outward onto the imaginary leader who then channels it back toward the group in a form that carries both the ideal bond of the imaginary “we”– (Make America Great Again)– and the fear of the real other that is displaced onto one or other imaginary substitute threat (in the case of Trump, immigrants, Democrats, Iran, criminals, at the moment China; but in other circumstances Jews, blacks, gays). Because each person is actually blocked and pooled up within him/herself, disabled by fear of the other from entering into the grace of the real other’s longed-for presence, the energy that would radiate toward real others is instead channeled “up” toward Trump who returns it “downward” toward the beings who constitute him. Out of the group’s passivity, emerging from the paralysis of circulating blocked connection saturated by fear, is created the leader as the active force who actually releases the energy that is otherwise everywhere blocked, creating an imaginary experience of perfect fusion, the Great America, and concomitant rage toward an imaginary Other who is perpetually threatening that perfect fusion.
In true leadership, the leader expresses the bioenergetic flow of authentic human connection; he or she does not constitute the separated “from the outside,” but rather gives voice to the common experience of radiant bioenergetic presence emanating from the feeling of true community within the group itself. But in the case of the alienated group comprising Trumpism, the leader actually “creates” the group for the group from the outside as a false-we that each person can imagine he or she is a part of without actually risking the vulnerability of becoming present to the real other. In Trump’s group, everyone is passive and he is active; whereas in the true group the leader merely gives voice to and shape to the unblocked energy passing among one another in the ricochet of our common humanity.
Through this process, from a bioenergetically binding or “erotic” standpoint, the horizontal becomes vertical. The energy that properly flows among and between us as empathy, compassion, and love is displaced, through its blockage out of fear of the real other, into an impacted vertical, top-down force expressed from an active leader “down” toward a passive, separated or serialized ensemble “underneath” the leader. And this “verticalization” of the vector of bioenergetic or erotic force is actually understood unconsciously within the entire vertical ensemble itself—that is why Trump began his leadership (or presidential) campaign haughtily riding down the escalator from an upper floor of one his palaces to a lower floor, an externalization of the inner hierarchical flow offered to the passive “watchers” of this event, to those awed “beneath”.
And this in turn gives a key to the very nature of the inner experience of hierarchy itself, in which people who are actually equal and on the same level experience themselves as either “above” or “below” someone else. To the extent that we feel “below” another—to the extent that our being itself becomes weakened by a feeling of “underneathness” and feeling less than an other—to that extent we are manifesting a withdrawal of our presence from the social field due to a fear of humiliation by real other people, and the others around us become primarily carriers of a threat to our confidence in and capacity to reveal and manifest our own presence.
It is then that we tend to seek out the bioenergetic release of our energy through transferring our own energy into the higher one “above” us who brings us into a pseudo community-of-the-separated under his or her force field, his or her command. As in the case of Donald Trump, always this leader must idealize the group’s unity because of the unconscious common awareness of this unity’s vacuity, and always must he or she convert part of the borrowed energy to rage and direct that rage toward demonization of the threatening Other, the more or less randomly designated displaced object of the group’s actual circulating fear. Resistance and revolution, or better, overcoming through conscious or intentional evolution, comes from drawing enough energy away from the gravitational pull of the hierarchy and toward the movement of desire toward each other, toward genuine empathy, compassion, and love through mutual recognition, to emulsify the “hold” that the leader has upon the group-as-a-whole. Because this hold is built upon a fear of the other that tends to reinforce itself by the sense of pseudo or imaginary community that the hierarchy’s distorted, displaced eros provides, the movement must move into it with a loving bioenergetic radiance of equality and oneness that incarnates increasingly into a ricochet, properly undermining fear’s “grip” with a dissemination of presence palpable enough to overcome the fear of humiliation attendant to its vulnerability. This very ricochet of social presence is what makes the movement “move”. The movement moves the social Being of the group itself from the frozen withdrawn space of reciprocal fear to the co-present “forward flow” of authentic mutual recognition, experienced as a recovery of here, of being on the ground right now with one another rather than lost “in” a dissociated mental space of an imaginary and paranoid world.
How can we each help to initiate or participate in thawing the frozen circulation of fear and releasing the forward flow of desire? How can we contribute to giving motion to the liberating movement toward one another, and toward transforming the social field around us? Apart from seeking to continually manifest the grounded presence toward the other that we have access to within ourselves, we can shift toward a spiritual approach to politics that nurtures the confidence in ourselves and others that a socially connected world is possible. As we call for external aspects of the world to be changed in a just and egalitarian direction (health care for all), so also we must elevate the interhuman harmonium so as to prefigure through a bioenergetic awakening the lived world that we hope to bring into being (in which actually caring about each other’s health rather than merely insuring each other’s bodies becomes the animating force).
Such a spiritualization of collective political action, because it releases eros into the social field, helps to covert social change efforts into social transformation efforts, into transformations of the social space between us so as to “jolt it” with the radiant energy essential to its spread. And in addition and equally important, this intentional spiritualization of our social and political efforts helps to accumulate within consciousness a conscious knowledge of what we are trying to make happen in the interhuman environment.
Liberatory social movements of the past have foundered in part upon their failure to actually grasp in reflective knowledge the internal transfiguration of our interrelatedness that we in those movements were directly, pre-reflectively, experiencing and seeking to bring about. That lack of internal knowledge made it very difficult to intentionally re-create what had been experienced more or less spontaneously in our liberatory outbreaks, in our “up-risings”. While one purpose of bringing an intentional spiritual dimension to politics is to intentionally release the bioenergetic longing for connection itself, an equally important purpose is to enable us to gradually grasp in reflection what was originally undergone in experience. Growing confidence in this knowledge increasingly allows us, a group-coming-into-connection, to fend off our internal saboteurs responding destructively to the legacy of fear in our midst, within ourselves and acted out within the group, and to intentionally develop practices that strengthen our internal bond while pursuing the elements of our larger transformative agenda.
Karl Marx pudo haber sido el pionero, pero muchos otros judíos también se involucraron en la lucha por el comunismo, particularmente en los primeros días de la revolución rusa. Personalmente no creo que debamos disculparnos por este fenómeno. Habiendo sufrido en forma insoportable bajo sucesivos regímenes opresores, muchos de esos activistas políticos pensaron genuinamente que el comunismo sería mejor para el pueblo que la corrupción zarista. Su sentido del idealismo alimentó las esperanzas de una vida mejor y un futuro más equitativo para todos. En los papeles el comunismo era una buena idea. El hecho de que fracasó —y que los nuevos líderes superaron la opresión de sus predecesores —refleja las personalidades involucradas tanto como el sistema que promovieron.
¿Cuál es el sistema económico judío? ¿Hay alguno? Yo lo describiría como “capitalismo con conciencia”. Promoviendo la libre empresa, la Torá es claramente capitalista. Pero es un capitalismo condicional, y ciertamente un capitalismo compasivo.
Winston Churchill dijo una vez “El vicio inherente del capitalismo es el compartir desigualmente las bendiciones. El vicio inherente del comunismo es el compartir igualmente las miserias”. Por lo tanto el judaísmo introdujo un sistema de mercado libre en el que el compartir las bendiciones no queda librado a la casualidad o a los buenos deseos, sino que es un mandamiento. Nuestra Parashá nos da un ejemplo clásico.
Shemitá, el año sabático, fue designado para permitir que la tierra descanse y se regenere. Durante seis años la tierra debe ser trabajada, pero en el séptimo año debe descansar y permanecer en barbecho. El ciclo agrícola en la Tierra Santa impone estrictas leyes y regulaciones sobre el propietario de la tierra. No sembrar, no podar, ningún trabajo agrícola, cualquiera que sea, en el séptimo año —y todo lo que crece solo debe ser “sin dueño” y puede ser tomado por todos. El propietario puede tomar algo, pero también sus trabajadores, amigos y vecinos. El propietario de la tierra, en su propia tierra, no tiene más derechos que el extranjero. Durante seis años ustedes poseen la propiedad, pero en el séptimo año no disfrutan de derechos especiales.
Este es uno de los muchos ejemplos del “capitalismo con conciencia” del judaísmo. Hay legisladas muchas otras obligaciones hacia los pobres —no agregados opcionales, no recomendaciones piadosas, sino claramente mandatarias contribuciones para los menos afortunados. El diezmo del diez por ciento, como también la obligación de dejar sin cosechar para los pobres los rincones del campo de uno, las gavillas y racimos olvidados son todo parte del sistema de capitalismo compasivo.
Por lo tanto el judaísmo presenta un sistema económico que conlleva lo mejor de ambos mundos —las ventajas de un libre mercado que permite la expresión personal y el éxito relacionados con el trabajo duro sin las desventajas de la codicia corporativa. Si la tierra pertenece a Di-s, entonces no tenemos la propiedad exclusiva sobre ella. Di-s derrama Sus bendiciones sobre nosotros, pero, claramente, el trato es que debemos compartir. Sin la ley de la Torá, el capitalismo fracasa. La ambición desmedida y la codicia de dinero y poder llevan a monopolios y conglomerados que no dejan lugar para el otro y amplían la brecha entre los que tienen y los que no tienen. El año sabático es una de las comprobaciones y balances que mantienen nuestro capitalismo kosher y bueno.
Algunas personas son demasiado amantes de los negocios. Todo es medido y exacto. Negocios son negocios. Si te invito para Shabat, no repetiré la invitación hasta que me la devuelvas primero. Si le das $50 a mi hijo para su Bar Mitzvá, entonces eso es exactamente lo que daré a tu hijo. Debemos ser más suaves, más flexibles, no tan duros, inflexibles y amantes de los negocios. Por supuesto, sean capitalistas, pero capitalistas kosher. Lo que una persona “vale” financieramente debe ser irrelevante para el respeto que deben darle. Mantengan las tradicionales características judías de bondad, compasión, tzedaká y jesed, generosidad de espíritu, corazón —y bolsillo.
Que ganen grandes cantidades de dinero y animen a Di-s a seguir bañándolos de bendiciones al compartir generosamente con otros.
Hace aproximadamente una década atrás, fui testigo de un hecho estremecedor, vi como un hombre se lanzaba de un séptimo piso (el relato completo de esa estremecedora experiencia lo relato en detalle en el quinto capítulo de mi libro «Propósito» – El eje central de una vida apasionante).
Para esa época, yo estaba estudiando en Israel, y había ido a Venezuela para visitar a mi familia. Normalmente, esas vacaciones las aprovechaba para compartir con mis familiares, a quienes veía un par de veces al año. También me tomaba un tiempo para visitar buenos amigos. En aquel viaje un gran amigo me invitó a cenar en su casa. Ambos reservamos el día y acordamos vernos a las 8:00 de la noche de la fecha pautada.
Durante la mañana del día pautado para la cena, estuve preparando una clase que iba a dar al día siguiente a un grupo de jóvenes en casa de una conocida familia de la comunidad. Para ese momento, yo no sabía que esa conferencia cambiaría mi vida y la de algunos de los participantes para siempre. Mi mayor inquietud era, ¿cómo generar el interés necesario para que sus corazones se abrieran? Había preparado el material para la charla, y le pedí a Dios que me pusiera las palabras correctas. Como la noche anterior al encuentro estaba invitado a cenar en la casa de mi amigo, pensé compartir con él mi visión sobre aquel encuentro y así podría él también aportar alguna idea. Ninguno de nosotros sabía que esa noche cambiaría el rumbo de la conferencia. Esa noche sucedió un hecho estremecedor que sacudió fuertemente mis emociones. Las consecuencias, fueron inimaginables.
No sé cómo revivir el sentimiento que me embargó tras el incidente. Estaba en shock. Este tipo de situaciones vienen sin avisar, sin preparación, sin anestesia. No lo podía creer. Sentía una contradictoria mezcla de indignación y compasión. Durante toda la noche no podía dejar de pensar en lo que había pasado. Me sentía perturbado con preguntas muy fuertes. Siempre había escuchado que de acuerdo con la Torá está prohibido quitarse la vida. No sabía exactamente dónde estaba escrito ni de dónde se deducía tal prohibición, pero me parecía muy lógico desde el punto de vista de la fe. Luego encontré dicha prohibición mencionada de forma explícita en Rashí, Bereshit 9:5.
Aclaro que este tema merece un análisis muy profundo, pero a los fines de este artículo, voy a limitarme a relatar mi perspectiva, según lo enfoqué en aquel momento. Entendía que cometer ese acto es una especie de “homicidio”. ¿Cómo puedes tomar una decisión tan drástica sobre tu vida?, ¿acaso eres el dueño de ella? Si estamos de acuerdo en que no se debe asesinar a otra persona, ¿cómo puede alguien poner fin a su propia vida? Cuando vemos personas jóvenes, de negocios, estrellas de cine o músicos famosos que han acabado voluntariamente con sus vidas, surge la pregunta ¿por qué?, ¿por qué una persona que está sana y cuenta con abundancia material se atreve a tomar una decisión de tal magnitud y llevarla a cabo? ¿Qué pasa por su mente y qué lo lleva a tomar tal decisión?
De algo estaba seguro; si yo había sido testigo de un hecho tan lamentable, seguramente había un propósito detrás de todo ello. Yo tenía que aprender algo de ese episodio, y sobre eso estaba obligado a hablar al día siguiente en mi encuentro con aquellos curiosos y desafiantes jóvenes. Rápidamente, me di cuenta de que las cuestiones sobre el valor de la vida y el dilema de una persona que decide acabar con ella eran temas de mucho provecho para debatir con mis jóvenes amigos.
Estaba seguro de que lograría propiciar un debate sobre el tema, y así juntos obtendríamos sabiduría de ese hecho. Esa era mi misión. A eso dedique todo mi pensamiento. Es conocida la cita que dice (Avot 4:1): “¿Quién es considerado un sabio? El que aprende de todas las personas”. Yo estaba seguro de que había algo importante que debía aprender de esa terrible experiencia, y quería compartirlo con mi audiencia.
Mientras seguía pensando en aquella experiencia, me vino a la mente una idea. Me pregunté: cuando esa persona decidió saltar ¿tenía libre albedrio? ¿por qué alguien decidiría quitarse la vida? Esta pregunta fue una llave para abrir una puerta de entendimiento dentro de este asunto perturbador. Hay una regla en el mundo del coaching y la psicología, que es un principio judío: toda acción (o inacción) se debe a una de las siguientes dos motivaciones: conseguir placer o evitar dolor (véase el ensayo sobre libre albedrio del Rav Eliyahu Dessler en su libro Mijtav MeEliyahu).
El juego entre el dolor y el placer es nuestro motor. Toda persona necesita conseguir placer y evitar dolor, tanto en el plano físico como en el emocional. Es una ley natural. El verdadero desafío consiste en definir qué placer vale la pena perseguir y qué dolor vale la pena sufrir. Siendo así, entendemos que alguien que se suicida persigue algún placer o busca suprimir un dolor. Esta persona posiblemente busca una “solución” a algún problema. Entendí que esa persona estaba tan desesperada por su sufrimiento, que pensó acabar con su vida para acabar el sufrimiento. Lamentablemente, estaba muy lejos de la realidad, pues, el sufrimiento está conectado a la mente y no al cuerpo.
Hay que ser muy valiente para suicidarse
Esto lo digo con cierta ironía, pues alguien que comete este horrible acto está buscando escapar del sufrimiento; sin embargo, para cometerlo, hace falta mucha valentía. El hombre por instinto busca sobrevivir. Nuestro organismo se protege incluso de la propia necedad. Para burlar estos mecanismos de supervivencia hace falta creatividad, persistencia y determinación. Esas destrezas no deberían usarse para la atrocidad de un suicidio, sino para ser creativo y crecer emocionalmente; para beneficiar a otros con amor y bondad; para ser más generosos; para acumular sabiduría; para vencer miedos y atreverse a conquistar límites.
Si esta persona quiso acabar con el sufrimiento, éste seguramente era insoportable. Ahora, existen decenas de sufrimientos que uno está dispuesto a experimentar porque sabe que valen la pena. Alguien que sufre con un propósito tiene fuerza y motivación para superarse, quien sufre sin un propósito, solo tiene melancolía y tristeza. ¿Cuándo el sufrimiento se hace doloroso e insoportable? Únicamente cuando carece de propósito, cuando no se puede visualizar un provecho. Ese tipo de sufrimiento es desesperante.
El propósito del sufrimiento
El Dr. Víctor Frankl —quien fue prisionero en Auschwitz— escribe que el sufrimiento es parte de la vida. Estas líneas de su libro me llamaron la atención:
“El sufrimiento es un aspecto de la vida que no puede erradicarse, como no pueden apartarse el destino o la muerte. Sin todos ellos, la vida no es completa”.
Eso no significa que el propósito de la vida sea sufrir. Pero, si el sufrimiento carece de propósito, entonces no vale la pena. A partir del sufrimiento, se puede crecer emocionalmente, ganar humildad y sabiduría, paciencia y visión. El sufrimiento puede ser un maestro para aceptar que no sabemos nada. Por supuesto, nadie quiere sufrir; pero cuando ocurren situaciones que escapan de nuestras manos, podemos acudir al maravilloso poder de la actitud para decidir cómo sufrir y conectarnos a un propósito mayor que da sentido al sufrimiento.
El dolor es el precio que se paga por el verdadero placer
Una madre sufre en la sala de parto, pero apenas ve a su recién nacido, se emociona y agradece por tan bella experiencia. Mi esposa incluso le dice: “Por ti lo volvería a pasar mil veces… ¡No es nada, mi vida!». En mi humilde opinión, eso es grandeza. El nacimiento de un bebé es peligrosísimo para la madre y para el bebé; y es también muy doloroso para ambos. Entonces, cabe preguntar, ¿por qué ponerse en esa situación?, ¿somos acaso masoquistas? Igualmente pasa con la crianza de un hijo, ¿por qué aceptamos tanto sacrificio, incertidumbre, noches sin dormir, años de esfuerzo y gasto? Rav Nóaj preguntaba a sus alumnos: “¿Cuál es el mayor placer de vuestros padres?”, y todos respondían “¡Los hijos!”; a lo que el Rav preguntaba: “Ahora díganme, ¿cuál es el mayor dolor de cabeza de vuestros padres?”. Y, riéndose, respondían: “¡Los hijos!”. ¡Nuestro mayor placer es a la vez nuestro mayor dolor! ¿Por qué?, muy simple: El dolor es el precio que se paga por el placer. Cuanto más placer uno aspira, mayor será el precio por pagar.
Querido lector ¿has pensado alguna vez en el propósito del sufrimiento? ¿En qué áreas de tu vida enfrentas desafíos y cómo crees que puedes usarlos a tu favor? Piensa en el placer y el dolor como fuentes de motivación, y siempre define tu propósito. ¡éxito!
In this new era of COVID-19, when virtually all synagogues are closed and almost no one is able to pray with a minyan (quorum of 10 men), many are tempted to say the Kaddish (which is chanted in honor of loved ones who have passed on) even while alone. Why can’t this be done?
The Importance of Kaddish
Before we get to the minyan aspect, let’s talk a bit about Kaddish.
I cannot overstate the importance and merit there is in both saying Kaddish and listening attentively and responding appropriately when it is said by another. This holds true for both for the Kaddeshim said by the chazzan (prayer leader) and the mourners.
In addition to bringing merit to the living, reciting Mourner’s Kaddish does wonders for the souls of the deceased. It not only helps them as they face judgment in heaven and eases their passage to the World to Come, but also allows them to continue on to even higher spiritual planes (which is why it is said every year on the anniversary of passing).
Kaddish=Public Declaration of G‑d’s Holiness
The underlying theme of the Kaddish prayer is the glorification, magnification and sanctification of G‑d.
As you can read in Why Are 10 Men Needed for a Minyan?, anything that is a davar shebikedushah, a declaration of G‑d’s holiness such as Kaddish, Barechu or Kedushah, requires at least a minyan present.1
In fact, if you look at the very text of Kaddish, you can see that it is structured to be said in the presence of others. For example: “In your lifetime and in your days and in the lifetime of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon, and say, Amen.” Thus, much of it doesn’t make much sense if it is recited alone.
Furthermore, one of the very reasons why Kaddish is considered such a merit for the departed is because the one who chants it leads the entire group in prayer.
What to Do When Kaddish Is Impossible
The greatest merit for the deceased is when one of their own sons recites the Kaddish. The next best option is to arrange for a close relative (e.g., son-in-law) or sibling to recite it (on condition that their own parents are no longer alive).2
If this isn’t feasible, then one can arrange for anyone who no longer has parents living to recite the Kaddish. In this case, it is preferable to pay for its recitation, rather than have the person do it as a favor. This way (a) the person saying it is considered even more of an emissary (bringing more merit to the deceased), and (b) there is greater assurance that it will in fact be recited. This is especially true when the payment for Kaddish recitation supports an orphan, the poor or a needy Torah scholar.3
In this vein, Chabad.org has partnered with Colel Chabad (the oldest continuously operating charity of its kind in Israel) to offer the recitation of Kaddish for the 11 months after the passing and/or annually on the anniversary of passing.
In the Era of Coronavirus
Due to the extraordinary situation in which we now find ourselves, Chabad.org has arranged a special (free) service in which Kaddish is said in a safe and government-approved environment for all those who cannot do it themselves.
Even More Important than Kaddish
When the vast majority of us are precluded from saying Kaddish as usual, it’s normal to feel distressed. Keep in mind that although saying Kaddish and leading the prayer services are a source of merit for the departed, it is even more important for the deceased that their children and descendants follow the path of righteousness they modeled.
The Zohar says that just as a son honors his parents with food, drink and clothing during their lifetimes, he must honor them even more after they pass away! If he walks a bad path, he brings them disgrace. But if he walks a righteous path, he honors them in This World and in the World to Come. When this happens, G‑d has mercy on the deceased and seats them in a place of prominence.4
So in our current situation, mourners are encouraged to add in good deeds and Torah study (especially Mishnayot) in the merit of their loved ones. And when one can influence others to do the same, it has an even more powerful impact and merit for the deceased.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote a number of telling letters to a Jewish activist and educator who often traveled in order to strengthen Jewish education and would need to miss the recital of Kaddish from time to time. In one such letter, the Rebbe writes:
I already wrote to you about this situation a number of times. It is simple that the satisfaction and elevation of the soul cannot come at the expense of a decrease in Torah and mitzvahs. And after all, Jewish education is the foundation for this, and the merit of the public is dependent upon this (much more than Kaddish). From this it is understood that you should not decrease in your efforts for Jewish education, and on the contrary, you should add in it.
And in order that you should not miss (as much as possible) in what was discussed, there is room, in addition to you saying Kaddish when possible, to hire someone else to recite it . . .5
On the flip side, if possible, a person should endeavor to recite Kaddish himself rather than have someone else do it, as it is more meritorious if the descendants themselves recite it.6
May we merit the day when there will be no more death and we will once again be reunited with our loved ones, with the coming of the Moshiach and the resurrection of the dead!
Talmud, Megillah 23b. To explain the derivation of the concept in the Talmud: Elsewhere it is written, הבדלו מתוך העדה—“Separate yourselves from amidst the congregation” (Numbers 16:21). Noting that the same word (תוך) appears in both verses, a verbal association transmitted by tradition [i.e., a gezeirah shavah] postulates that just as the latter verse speaks about a congregation (עדה), so, too, does the former verse speak about a congregation. And a congregation comprises no fewer than ten people, as it is written, עד מתי לעדה הרעה הזאת — “How long will this evil congregation persist?” (Numbers 14:27). This verse refers to the spies, who numbered twelve; subtract two for Yehoshua and Calev (who were righteous), and ten remain.
The Rebbe himself writes about this at some length to one who wrote about hiring someone else to recite Kaddish; see More Le’dor Navuch, vol. 3, p. 106. Of course, this is not related to hiring an additional Kaddish-sayer as a backup in case the mourners accidentally forget to say it.
Fearful of losing its license to broadcast in Israel, an evangelical network insists that its missionary activities are not a violation of Israeli law.
In a video message posted over the weekend, God TV CEO Ward Simpson declared that the network has no intention of using its platform to convert Jews to Christianity, which could be considered a violation of its broadcasting license and of Israeli law.
He suggested, rather, that its goal was to persuade Jews in Israel to embrace Jesus as the messiah without renouncing their Judaism – that is to say, it hoped to turn them into Messianic Jews, also sometimes known as “Jews for Jesus.”
“Proselytizing in Israel is a very touchy subject,” said Simpson in a video posted on the God TV website on Friday. “You cannot try to convert Jews, you cannot try to make them become a Christian, which we aren’t anyway. … Those things you can’t do and we won’t do. We just teach and preach and share Christian content, and let the Lord do the rest. Our Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters don’t convert. They continue to live the lives of Jews. They just believe Yeshua is the messiah, and they follow him.”
The Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, the regulatory body that operates under the auspices of the Israeli Communications Ministry, is currently investigating whether God TV, which launched its new Israeli channel, Shelanu, two weeks ago, is in violation of the terms of its license. Its license stipulates that it cannot carry programs that wield “undue influence” on viewers. This would include proselytizing.
The council launched the investigation after it became aware of a video message posted by Simpson, in which he declared that the new channel aimed “to take the gospel of Jesus into the homes and lives and hearts of the Jewish people.”
The video message was taken down after the investigation was announced. Asher Biton, chairman of the council, told Haaretz that God TV had never shared its plans to use the cable channel for missionary activities. What the cable council had been told, he said, was that the channel would carry programming earmarked for pro-Israel, Christian audiences.
In the latest video message, Simpson said he regretted that “some of the language I used was offensive to some folks and maybe not in keeping with what we can and cannot say on the network.” He also apologized “for anything we might have said or done to create the appearance that we’re not going to follow the guidelines.”
He also promised “to follow all the rules and regulations that govern our TV license.”
At the same time, he refused to rule out missionizing. “The subject of preaching about Jesus is a touchy one, and we do understand that, and we have to be sensitive to it,” he said. “But that’s what we do, and that’s who we are. We’re Christians, and we’re called to go into the world and preach the gospel. That’s what we’re trained to do, and that’s what we’re doing.”
God TV is a huge international Christian network that broadcasts in some 200 countries around the world. It signed a seven-year contract with Hot, the Israeli cable television provider, to host Shelanu. More than 700,000 Israeli households subscribe to Hot, which controls nearly 50 percent of the multichannel market in the country.
Shelanu is broadcast on Hot’s Channel 182. The description provided to subscribers on television screens says it is a “faith-based channel geared toward pro-Israel Christians.” Some of its programs are translated or dubbed into Hebrew, while others are produced locally by the Israeli Messianic community
It is not the first Christian channel to broadcast in Israel. Other examples include Daystar and Middle East Television. Shelanu is the first, however, to broadcast in Hebrew and to openly flaunt its missionary activities.
In a letter sent several months ago to members of the Messianic community in Israel, God TV regional director Ron Cantor wrote: “This has never been done before. We have tried to fly below the radar, not because we are ashamed or seeking to hide anything, but because the Orthodox community will do anything to keep the message of Yeshua out of this country. Please pray.”
En el comienzo de la parashá, la Torá manda a los Cohaním que no se contaminen con la impureza ritual de un cadáver. El mandato en sí es dicho dos veces: “Diles a los Cohaním Hijos de Aharón y diles”. La repetición, como Rashi (Francia, 1040-1105 e.c.) comenta, “viene a advertir a los adultos que eduquen a los menores“.
Esta no es la única vez que la Torá manda a los adultos a educar a los menores en una Mitzvá. Nuestros sabios del Talmud dicen que este tipo de advertencia aparece en tres lugares: 1) la prohibición de comer insectos, 2) la prohibición de comer o beber sangre y 3) la prohibición de contaminarse a un Cohen.
Es claro que queda en manos de los adultos educar a los menores. Más aún, la Torá misma establece que un padre debe educar a sus hijos o proveer los medios a través de los cuales los niños sean educados (maestros, escuelas, etc). Existiendo entonces una Mitzvá general de educación, ¿por qué justamente en estos tres lugares la Torá vio necesario enfatizar dicha Mitzvá? La razón de esto es que en éstas tres situaciones un educador podría ser ligero o liviano con sus enseñanzas, como veremos.
La característica de la prohibición de comer insectos es que son desagradables. La característica de la prohibición de comer sangre es que el pueblo judío acostumbraba ingerirla, y la característica de la prohibición de no contaminarse con un cadáver es que es una Mitzvá irracional.
De aquí aprendemos tres reglas fundamentales en la educación:
1) Cuando un educador se encuentra con el deber de enseñar a un público cuyo nivel spiritual es extremadamente bajo y/o en una situación sombría, podría pensar que no tiene ninguna posibilidad de éxito. Por eso la Torá nos dice que, aún a una persona que come insectos, cosa que simboliza su bajo nivel espiritual, al punto que ni siquiera se comporta de manera “humana”, se puede educar y “enderezar”.
2) Hay quienes dicen que la educación sólo funciona siempre y cuando el educando no se haya acostumbrado a transitar el “mal camino”, pero si su actuar indebidamente se volvió una “segunda naturaleza” en él, es un desperdicio de tiempo y esfuerzo intentar enseñarle el “camino correcto”. Por eso la Torá dice que aún en el caso del consumo de sangre, cosa que el pueblo judío estaba acostumbrado a hacer, recae la obligación de educar y que, a través de la educación adecuada, pueden mejorarse en una persona aún aquellas cosas a las cuales ya está acostumbrado.
3) Hay quienes dicen que la educación se aplica solamente a aquellos conceptos que pueden explicarse racionalmente, pero cuando se trata de asuntos de fe, no puede educarse. Si la persona declara ser no creyente, no hay nada que hacer. Por eso la Torá enfatiza precisamente en un tema como la impureza de los cadavers es vista como una Mitzvá irracional. La obligación de educar, persigue enseñarnos que también los conceptos dependientes de la fe pueden ser educados, ya que, en lo más profundo, todo judío es creyente y la educación sólo lo ayuda a revelar la fe oculta en su corazón.
Cuando la Torá nos manda a hacer algo, no significa solamente que la tarea es realizable, sino que la Torá misma nos dá la fuerza para llevar adelante la misión. Di-s no exige del ser humano cosas que no puede hacer.
Kedoshim contains the two great love commands of the Torah. The first is, “Love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:18). Rabbi Akiva called this “the great principle of the Torah.” The second is no less challenging: “The stranger living among you must be treated as your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were strangers in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:34).
These are extraordinary commands. Many civilisations contain variants of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” or in the negative form attributed to Hillel (sometimes called the Silver Rule), “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn.” But these are rules of reciprocity, not love. We observe them because bad things will happen to us if we don’t. They are the basic ground-rules of life in a group.
Love is something altogether different and more demanding. That makes these two commandments a revolution in the moral life. Judaism was the first civilisation to put love at the heart of morality. As Harry Redner puts it in Ethical Life, “Morality is the ethic of love. The initial and most basic principle of morality is clearly stated in the Torah: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” He adds: “The biblical “love of one’s neighbour” is a very special form of love, a unique development of the Judaic religion and unlike any to be encountered outside it.”
Much has been written about these commands. Who exactly is meant by “your neighbour”? Who by “the stranger”? And what is it to love someone else as oneself? I want to ask a different question. Why is it specifically here, in Kedoshim, in a chapter dedicated to the concept of holiness, that the command appears?
Nowhere else in all Tanach are we commanded to love our neighbour. And only in one other place (Deut. 10:19) are we commanded to love the stranger. (The Sages famously said that the Torah commands us thirty-six times to love the stranger, but that is not quite accurate. Thirty-four of those commands have to do with not oppressing or afflicting the stranger and making sure that he or she has the same legal rights as the native born. These are commands of justice rather than love).
And why does the command to love your neighbour as yourself appear in a chapter containing such laws as, “Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material”? These are chukim, decrees, usually thought of as commands that have no reason, at any rate none that we can understand. What have they to do with the self-evidently moral commands of the love of neighbour and stranger? Is the chapter simply an assemblage of disconnected commands, or is there a single unifying strand to it?
The answer goes deep. Almost every ethical system ever devised has sought to reduce the moral life to a single principle or perspective. Some connect it to reason, others to emotion, yet others to consequences: do whatever creates the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Judaism is different. It is more complex and subtle. It contains not one perspective but three. There is the prophetic understanding of morality, the priestly perspective and the wisdom point of view.
Prophetic morality looks at the quality of relationships within a society, between us and God and between us and our fellow humans. Here are some of the key texts that define this morality. God says about Abraham, “For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right [tzedakah] and just [mishpat].” God tells Hosea, “I will betroth you to Me in righteousness [tzedek] and justice [mishpat], in kindness [chessed] and compassion [rachamim].” He tells Jeremiah, “I am the Lord, who exercises kindness [chessed], justice [mishpat] and righteousness [tzedakah] on earth, for in these I delight, declares the Lord.” Those are the key prophetic words: righteousness, justice, kindness and compassion – not love.
When the Prophets talk about love it is about God’s love for Israel and the love we should show for God. With only three exceptions, they do not speak about love in a moral context, that is, vis-à-vis our relationships with one another. The exceptions are Amos’ remark, “Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts” (Amos 5:15); Micah’s famous statement, “Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8) and Zechariah’s “Therefore love truth and peace” (Zech. 8:19). Note that all three are about loving abstractions – good, mercy and truth. They are not about people.
The prophetic voice is about how people conduct themselves in society. Are they faithful to God and to one another? Are they acting honestly, justly, and with due concern for the vulnerable in society? Do the political and religious leaders have integrity? Does society have the high morale that comes from people feeling that it treats its citizens well and calls forth the best in them? A moral society will succeed; an immoral or amoral one will fail. That is the key prophetic insight. The Prophets did not make the demand that people love one another. That was beyond their remit. Society requires justice, not love.
The wisdom voice in Torah and Tanach looks at character and consequence. If you live virtuously, then by and large things will go well for you. A good example is Psalm 1. The person occupied with Torah will be “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.” That is the wisdom voice. Those who do well, fare well. They find happiness (ashrei). Good people love God, family, friends and virtue. But the wisdom literature does not speak of loving your neighbour or the stranger.
The moral vision of the Priest that makes him different from the Prophet and Sage lies in the key word kadosh, “holy.” Someone or something that is holy is set apart, distinctive, different. The Priests were set apart from the rest of the nation. They had no share in the land. They did not work as labourers in the field. Their sphere was the Tabernacle or Temple. They lived at the epicentre of the Divine Presence. As God’s ministers they had to keep themselves pure and avoid any form of defilement. They were holy.
Until now, holiness has been seen as a special attribute of the Priest. But there was a hint at the Giving of the Torah that it concerned not just the children of Aaron but the people as a whole: “You shall be to Me a Kingdom of Priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6). Our chapter now spells this out for the first time. “The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:1-2). This tells us that the ethic of holiness applies not just to Priests but to the entire nation. We, too, must to be distinctive, set apart, held to a higher standard.
What in practice does this mean? A decisive clue is provided by another key word used throughout Tanach in relation to the Kohen, namely the verb b-d-l: to divide, set apart, separate, distinguish. That is what a Priest does. His task is “to distinguish between the sacred and the secular” (Lev. 10:10), and “to distinguish between the unclean and the clean” (Lev. 11:47). This is what God does for His people: “You shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy, and I have distinguished you [va-avdil] from other peoples to be Mine.” (Lev. 20:26).
There is one other place in which b-d-l is a key word, namely the story of creation in Genesis 1, where it occurs five times. God separates light and dark, day and night, upper and lower waters. For three days God demarcates different domains, then for the next three days He places in each its appropriate objects or life-forms. God fashions order out of the tohu va-vohu of chaos. As His last act of creation, He makes man after His “image and likeness.” This was clearly an act of love. “Beloved is man,” said Rabbi Akiva, “because he was created in [God’s] image.”
Genesis 1 defines the priestly moral imagination. Unlike the Prophet, the Priest is not looking at society. He is not, like the wisdom figure, looking for happiness. He is looking at creation as the work of God. He knows that everything has its place: sacred and profane, permitted and forbidden. It is his task to make these distinctions and teach them to others. He knows that different life forms have their own niche in the environment. That is why the ethic of holiness includes rules like: Don’t mate with different kinds of animals, don’t plant a field with different kinds of seed, and don’t wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
Above all the ethic of holiness tells us that every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. God made each of us in love. Therefore, if we seek to imitate God – “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” – we too must love humanity, and not in the abstract but in the concrete form of the neighbour and the stranger. The ethic of holiness is based on the vision of creation-as-God’s-work-of-love. This vision sees all human beings – ourselves, our neighbour and the stranger – as in the image of God, and that is why we are to love our neighbour and the stranger as ourself.
I believe that there is something unique and contemporary about the ethic of holiness. It tells us that morality and ecology are closely related. They are both about creation: about the world as God’s work and humanity as God’s image. The integrity of humanity and the natural environment go together. The natural universe and humanity were both created by God, and we are charged to protect the first and love the second.
 Shabbat 31a.
 Harry Redner, Ethical Life: The Past and Present of Ethical Cultures, Roman and Littlefield, 2001, 49-68.
In the height of the largest pandemic the world has known since the plague in 1918, people are struggling to make ends meet, losing their jobs, struggling to pay mortgages and rents, in danger of becoming sick, and experiencing increased hunger. Food banks report being depleted of supply[i], while farmers in Wisconsin and Ohio are dumping and burying eggs, milk, and other produce[ii]. The largest U.S. dairy cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America, estimates that farmers are dumping 3.7 million gallons of milk each day. A single chicken processor is smashing 750,000 eggs every week.
Why, when people are in need of food, is food being thrown away? The NYT “neutrally” reports that “many of the nation’s largest farmers are struggling another ghastly effect of the pandemic. They are being forced to destroy tens of millions of pounds of fresh food that they can no longer sell.”[iii]
But who is forcing them? Most farmers would prefer to have their food used to help people who are hungry. The “capitalist system and its profit making imperative, itself enforced by government, media, and economists, are “forcing” farmers to (choose to) destroy the food so many people desperately need rather than give it to food banks and people in need.
Of course, there are many people who go hungry even in “ordinary times,” but the government does not interfere with this element of the capitalist economy. Big agricultural firms fear that government involvement, beyond the huge subsidies it gives them, would undermine their profits. As in so many aspects of daily life in a capitalist society, the hidden element shaping which human needs are met and which are not is this: the assumption that profits must be the foundation for all our economic interactions. The result: something as obvious as having a significant part of “the bailout of 2020” fund delivery systems from farm to food banks for the hungry was woefully not included. While giving $500,000,000,000 (five hundred billion dollars) to the large corporations, and many billions to smaller ones, the government did not require that the money go solely to pay worker wages and only to corporations that at least paid a minimum wage of $15/hr. But unfortunately our government is divided between those whose highest priority is further enriching the rich and those who would wish it could be different but do not have the backbone to stand up and say “no money to anyone unless it is disproportionately distributed to those most in need, including the poor and the homeless” and accompanied by instituting a living wage for all workers and a guaranteed income for every adult living in the U.S.
But the super-rich and powerful resist addressing these needs because funding them would require significant reductions in their wealth. And the rest of us lack the political power to successfully challenge corporate bailouts and demand the support necessary to meet our needs. In addition, the millions already unemployed and many more to come have found no effective way to organize themselves to pressure their governments to act on their behalf. In fact, the corporate insistence on huge profits for their stockholders led to many corporations to close badly needed hospitals around the country because they were not making enough profit. This made it very difficult for many Americans to even get to places where they could be tested or treated for a variety of ailments, most dramatically revealed in the way that those hospitals that remain have been overwhelmed, often without adequate beds or equipment. And without any obvious way to get their government to work on their behalf, many face isolation at home. Many think that all they can do is be cheerful about a grim situation (or pray that they and their friends and family don’t die) while frantically washing their hands, wearing masks, and avoiding anyone who stands too close in the supermarket or pharmacy.
We’ve been conditioned to believe that people only care for themselves, that we are all basically selfish, and that hence we have to just look out for number one. If that is the reality, then the hope of creating a society based on caring instead of on profit would be pointless.
But what we actually see is that there are literally millions of people who are risking their lives as doctors, nurses, hospital workers, bus drivers, supermarket and pharmaceutical workers, farmers and farmworkers, truck drivers, police, firefighters, caregivers, and many others who risk their lives to care for the rest of us who are correctly obeying the call to stay at home. It’s true that some may be driven by the need to make a living to feed their families, a reasonable goal! Yet many have chosen to continue to take the risks because they genuinely care about others. So if we had a society that was based on caring rather than profit, tens of millions of others would feel much better about their lives if they didn’t have to choose between making a living and serving the well-being of everyone else. People actually yearn to have work that serves higher needs than putting more money into the pockets of the super-rich.
For that reason, it is important to acknowledge that there is still a chance in the remaining weeks of social isolation for a mass movement to emerge and last beyond this sad moment. That movement would have staying power if it used Zoom-based conferencing to replace the hope to “get back to business as usual” with a vision of a different kind of society that we could create together.
This vision needs to satisfy both material and psycho/spiritual needs. It is the narrow articulation of human needs limited to material needs that has limited the appeal of the Left. Even when social democratic forces have won power and implemented generous programs to provide money, entitlements and services, the vast majority of people have accepted these goodies but not given much loyalty to those who delivered “objective caring.”
What the socialisms of the past offered was based on a theory of human beings that ignored our hunger for respect, love, generosity, and a sense of higher meaning to our lives. In my research at the Institute for Labor and Mental Health with thousands of middle income working people, exploring stress at work and stress in family life, I learned that many people think of the objective caring delivered by the Left (e.g., social security or even health care benefits) as a kind of insurance program. Just as they are happy to have home and car insurance, they are happy to have social security and health care insurance, but they don’t feel particularly close to their insurance agents! And when they have to interact with their government that delivers these services, they rarely feel respected or appreciated. Rather, in many instances, the message our government and media sends folks who receive government aid is that they are somehow less than those who have bigger incomes and don’t rely on government subsidies. Yet the truth is that many of the most economically successful have had plenty of help from government (building the infrastructure, creating ways for a significant section of the wealthy to pay a smaller percentage of their income or wealth in taxes than the rest of us, declaring that corporations are really “persons” with the same or greater protections on their wealth than any of the rest of us have and protected their “right” to spend millions to influence the outcome of elections, and actually not working as hard as many in the bottom half of income earners who often have to take frustrating jobs or work more than one job just to barely support their families.
Some recognize that in a society where the top 1% own more wealth in the U.S. than the bottom 80% of wealth holders, that their government insurance programs are really little more than a way of giving as little as possible to most Americans and giving as much as possible to the ultra-wealthy. Others just suspect that there is something missing in what liberal governments offer, so they don’t feel appreciative, particularly when they find that government benefits rarely are enough to deal with their material needs. As a result, just as the New Deal of the 1930s was followed by conservative or neo-liberal regimes in the U.S., the socialists who delivered even more generous objective caring benefits in Europe were eventually voted out of power.
What is needed then is a politics that gives equal attention to fostering a society based on generosity and kindness—the opposite of the capitalist marketplace. To get there, forget about the word “socialism” and instead let’s talk about what I describe in my book Revolutionary Love as ”the Caring Society—Caring for Each Other and Caring for the Earth.” To achieve that we will need a new bottom line.
In a capitalist society, we judge our institutions to be productive and efficient and rational to the extent that they maximize money and power. In “the Caring Society” a new bottom line would judge our economy, our corporations, our government policies, our legal system, our education system, our cultural systems, and even some of our personal behavior to be rational, productive, and efficient to the extent that they maximize our capacities to be loving and caring, kind and generous, attuned to social, economic and environmental justice for everyone on the planet, committed to overcoming every form of racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia, responding to each other as intrinsically valuable (or in religious terms, sacred beings) rather than simply valuing them to the extent that they can deliver something to satisfy our personal needs, and responding to the universe and our mother Earth with awe, wonder, and radical amazement, rather than valuing them only to the extent that we can turn them into commodities to sell in the capitalist marketplace.
Of course the caring society would also have material benefits, so I want to affirm the positive contributions made by those who helped create the social support system that does exist and who are righteously fighting to expand it, e.g. in the New Green Deal or the programs promoted by Bernie Sanders. Yet these campaigns would be far more successful if framed in terms of achieving the Caring Society and the New Bottom Line—speaking to the values that underlie their more narrowly framed specific legislative initiatives. Yes, the need to expand those objective caring programs is particularly urgent now, but that can only happen when we start reframing those efforts in terms of achieving the caring society, treating people with respect even when they do not yet agree with our vision, affirming rather than dissing their religious commitments (even when we disagree with some of what those religions teach), and including in our discourse the need for a life connected to higher meaning than profits.
And, the caring society must be visionary in what we ask for even in regard to “objective caring”. This should include, among other things, a living wage for everyone, 28-hour workweek over 4 days (leaving more time to be with friends and family and to be in nature), guaranteed paid sick leave, canceling student and medical debts and debts of the poorest countries of the world, universal health/child/elder care, free education through graduate or professional schools, 6 week guaranteed vacation, universal replacement of fossil fuels with environmentally friendly sources of energy, among other things.
This approach will be received more successfully if liberals, progressives, and caring people of every sort prioritize what I call “subjective caring.” We need to teach that people would easily be won to caring for others if society stopped rewarding selfishness. Eventually, caring behavior would become the norm at work and at play. Caring at work might well slow down the pace of what we consider traditional ‘production’, which would be good for the future of the planet and a contribution to making work more pleasurable. If the goal of production was no longer profits for the top 10% of income earners, we could still produce enough of life’s basic necessities to have enough for everyone, though we wouldn’t have new versions of our cell phone or computers every year, or new flashy cars. The pace of life will slow down. For those who love the intensity of challenges, there will still be plenty of challenges for them to tackle. The big challenge will be creating enough global solidarity that people can work together to save the earth from the environmental catastrophe predicted by environmental scientists that will make the current pandemic look like a minor problem.
We are at a crossroads. Right now, while ordered to remain in our homes till the pandemic crisis is over, you and I could begin the process to build a movement for a caring society. Otherwise we will soon find ourselves returning to “life as usual” and ignoring all the warnings we are being given that a far greater environmental danger to life on earth is developing less dramatically but even more destructive unless we change how and what we are doing to our planet. While champions of the capitalist marketplace in our major political parties lead them to accept the notion that “success” equals endless growth, producing more and more things, the Caring Society will see success in creating work and leisure that are serving the best interests of all humanity, the animals, and the survival of the life-support of Earth.
But how would it be possible to build a movement for a fundamentally different kind of world? There is something that each of us can do right now while so many of us are bound to our homes.
A first step is to invite everyone you know to engage in imagining a world they would really want if profit was no longer the bottom line. Ask them to share their vision and this new bottom line with everyone they know, and then to create large group discussions on social media and “face-to-face” on Zoom-like video platforms. Invite them to read with you my book Revolutionary Love: a Political Strategy to Heal and Transform the World. Go to tikkun.org/lj to read why this book has been endorsed by Cornel West (professor of African American Studies at Harvard), Gloria Steinem (founding editor of Ms. Magazine), Keith Ellison (Attorney General of the State of Minnesota and the first African American to have been the vice-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus), Medea Benjamin (co-founder of Code Pink), Riane Eisler, Dean Ornish, Walter Brueggemann, Henry Giroux, Ariel Dorfman, and many others! (You can purchase the book there as well.) This is not some new agey “lets change ourselves first and then we’ll change the society” (a position I show to be deeply flawed) but rather a tough minded strategy to actually build a different world. But it starts by changing the liberals and the Left so that they stop alienating the very people who they need to win over (for example by dissing all whites or all men or acting as though anyone into religion must be on a lower level of psychological or intellectual development than those who reject all forms of religion and dismiss all spirituality as nonsense). And what you can also do is invite people to an online book group discussion of Revolutionary Love, working thru your own and others’ resistances, and allowing yourself to really become advocates for a different world.
Every day we can read on social media or even sometimes on the corporate-dominated media stories of people showing caring during this pandemic. There are tens of millions of people in our society who would love to live in a world that valued generosity and caring. They just don’t believe it is possible—until you tell them that you are part of a movement that intends to build such a society. This is the kind of organizing that could lead to the birth of a non-violent revolutionary movement far more radical than we have seen, in part because it validates not only the legitimate material desires of socialist programs, but also the psychological, spiritual, and higher-meaning-to-life desires of many who have turned away from the one dimensional Left. And it can all happen right now. You can start the process with your own friends and contacts. And you can also take a training with Cat Zavis that will help you develop some of the skills you may need to talk to people who will at first dismiss your ideas because they themselves are fearful of allowing themselves to feel how unhappy they are with the world of money and power-over others.
This is one way to not, once again, miss the opportunity presented by the economic meltdown we are all facing.
Unrealistic? Yes, in the same way that the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and the movement for GLBTQ rights were seen as unrealistic in the first few decades that they were being articulated. What I have learned is that you never really know what is or is not possible until you spend decades of your life fighting for what is desirable. So my advice: “don’t be realistic.” Instead make use of this very time of plague to create a new hopefulness that could change the world that will otherwise present itself as the only possible world – a world in which people will return to patterns and pathologies of the capitalist society, such as depression, hate of others, suicide, addictions, etc.
This is both the challenge and opportunity created by the current economic meltdown, and it will persist even when the media and government try to hide the ongoing suffering of so many who will be left behind by any “bail out stage 2 or 3 or 4” that the government is likely to provide. And this is the biggest spiritual and ethical opportunity of our time, and if we don’t take it, confine our focus to immediate (and very important) forms of societal repair of the worst suffering, but without a strategy to change the institutions and class and patriarchal practices that have caused so much suffering (including by failing to address human needs and give them priority over profit for the few, we will likely look back at this moment with deep regret. You and I can change that. The first step is to share this with everyone you can possibly reach.